Bruce Clark is the CEO and creator of several start-up companies; Clark Import Repair (auto repair facility), Clark & Clark Manufacturing, (invented cupholders for sports stadiums and movie theaters) Just Face It! (5 retail photography stores in major malls around Minneapolis including Mall of America), Minnetonka Investments (helped people in home foreclosures and/or bankruptcy get back on their feet while keeping their homes), Clark In-Home Tutoring Services (with a staff of over 100 certified teachers, successfully helped struggling students), American Innovations Corp (co-invented ladder safety accessories) and Clark & Clark Enterprises Inc (auto repair facility) Experience as a boat captain, race car driver, pilot, SCUBA diver, lobster fisherman, and author.
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Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Bruce Clark: Quick answer; In my case Made. The only gifts I was born with were being mechanically inclined where I got a hold of a screwdriver and dismantled my crib (as told by my mother) and driving a race car where I won 11 out of 17 races and set 3 track records. Starting each business was a new adventure whereas learning the hard way seemed to be the norm. Although successful in 90% of my businesses and inventions it never came easy.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your viewpoint, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Bruce Clark: Since the age of 21, I’ve created start-up businesses in the fields of Automotive repair facilities, (one in the ’70s and 80’s another in the 2000s) Education, Home Finance, Retail Photography stores, (started 5 stores in major malls around the Minneapolis area including the Mall of America) Inventions, (most well known are the cupholders on every seat in Sports Stadiums and Movie Theaters) Franchise and Tool Distributor (Snap-On Tools where I was Rookie of the Year my 1st year and #2 in five state area 2nd year) Now at age 67 I’ve learned many lessons the hard way, without a degree, flunking 7th grade, broken home and little money.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Bruce Clark: Hard worker, Vison, willing to take calculated risks, thinking big and stepping out of the box, if not dismantling said box.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Bruce Clark: I built multiple companies in multiple fields, not knowing what I was getting into in all but auto-repair. It’s more of how I changed over the years. I became wiser as to asking more questions from folk smarter than myself. Learning the hard way and later, delving deeper into calculations before taking risks. Learning the importance of proper market research instead of assuming. As an example, with one poorly selling product, had we spent $5,000 on a focus group, we could have saved 4 years and $100,000. Learning to keep emotions in check with my precious invention and the importance of perseverance.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Bruce Clark: Assume working 40-hour workweeks is likely not going to happen. More like 60 to 80 hours per week. Assume it will cost more money and take longer than planned, as there are going to be brick walls along the way. Those brick walls need to be climbed over, dug under, obliviated, or legally dismantled. Assume you may not be able to take any money from your start-up for a time. A new business is like a new baby. You give, give, give and never take from a baby until it has grown like a teenager where it can stand on its own feet and is strong enough to give back. America is the only country in the world created for entrepreneurs with all the ingredients needed to find success. The Small Business Administration is just one example with a subsidy called SCORE, which stands for Service Corps OF Retired Executives. A free source of wisdom.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Bruce Clark: Did I ever. The first cupholder product I invented was a simple, swiveling hoop that was not strong enough for public use. I was alerted to the potential problem early on and countered by adding features to hopefully alleviate the problem for my newborn baby. This was my creation, it had to work. After 1 year and $50,000 later, I realized it had to be aborted. Starting over with a more robust product finally created the success originally intended. Another product we’re wheels for extension ladders which could reduce back injuries for construction workers. We worked with safety engineers and insurance companies to make certain we could reduce the carrying weight of an extension ladder by up to 85% The only problem was we failed to work with enough construction workers, who were not willing to face their fellow workers carrying a ladder in this manner and wouldn’t use our product. A waste of 4 years and $100,000. Had we spent $5,000 on a focus group of construction workers, we could have avoided the blunder. Later, we finally came up with another safety product for ladders. A railing system is attached to the top of an extension ladder allows a worker to step through the ladder rather than stepping around while transferring to a rooftop or floor level. This product is saving lives and selling successfully today.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Bruce Clark: Do more market research as Lee Iacocca did for the Mustang. He knew the demographics for his market and was certain his car would sell very well. Take your time with a business plan. Research it well. Details matter. Don’t be afraid to share your idea with folks smarter than you. Seek out those in that field, for advice. Sell cars for 1 year to learn the art of controlling the sale. No matter your business, you have to sell your product or service. Don’t assume professional competence. Don’t ask anyone out there who does the type of profession you’re seeking. Ask who are the top 3 in that field.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Bruce Clark: Listening to my uniformed self. This is where a detailed, business plan, proper market research, and seeking advice from people smarter than yourself are imperative. Learn from my mistakes.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Bruce Clark: Assume COVID will be defeated or treated like another flu. We could learn to live with it via therapeutics like Ivermectin or Hydroxychloroquine. What hasn’t changed is America’s spirit, business climate, freedoms, and resources to find your successes.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Bruce Clark: A common myth is an entrepreneur will become a millionaire. In many cases it is true. In many other cases, they will make an above-average income but are hardly millionaires. If your motive to start a business is to just chase the dollar, you’re at a disadvantage. If you believe and build your product or service to be the best in the country, you have a great advantage. The money pouring in will be a byproduct of a job well done.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Bruce Clark: Believe in the American Dream. It is alive and well.
- Have a clear vision or goal.
- Be willing to work your ass off.
- Learn the art of salesmanship.
- Be willing to take a calculated risk
- Perseverance. Don’t give up when the going gets tough.
- A positive mental attitude is essential. No stinking thinking allowed.
- Focus on how to fix, build, and what breeds success. Not what could or might go wrong.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Bruce Clark: My top picks:
- The movie “Tucker” with Jeff Bridges.
- Every book by Harvey McKay like “How to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive”
- “The Seeds of Innovation” by Elaine Dundon
- Watch “Shark Tank”
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Bruce Clark: Professional Race Car Driver, Mechanical Engineer or Governor of Minnesota
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Bruce Clark: Billy Graham. He advised so many presidents with great wisdom and knew the Holy Spirit along with the soul of the American spirit.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Bruce Clark for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
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